Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket #357313; Unpublished
Judges Cameron, O’Brien, and Swartzle; Per Curiam
Official Michigan Reporter Citation: Not Applicable; Link to Opinion
No-Fault Insurer Claims for Reimbursement
In this unanimous, unpublished, per curiam decision, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s summary disposition order dismissing Plaintiff Nationwide Mutual Fire Insurance Company’s (“Nationwide”) no-fault reimbursement action against Defendant Cincinnati Insurance Company (“Cincinnati”). The Court of Appeals held that, based on the unique facts of the case, Cincinnati was not an insurer in the order of priority for payment of the no-fault PIP benefits to which Deontae McKissick and Michael Witcher were entitled as a result of the subject motor vehicle accident, and, therefore, Nationwide —the insurer assigned to McKissick’s and Witcher’s claims by the Michigan Assigned Claims Plan (MACP)—was not entitled to reimbursement from Cincinnati for the benefits it paid to McKissick and Witcher.
Cincinnati insured Irwin Krinsky’s Dodge Magnum, which was stolen in September of 2017. In October of 2017, Krinsky signed over the Magnum’s title to Cincinnati, in exchange for Cincinnati issuing payment for the stolen vehicle to Krinsky under hispolicy. Cincinnati did not immediately register the title with the State of Michigan, and six days later, the Magnum was involved in an accident in which Deontae McKissick and Michael Witcher were injured. McKissick and Witcher applied for PIP benefits through the MACP, which assigned their claims to Nationwide. After paying McKissick’s and Witcher’s benefits for a while, Nationwide filed suit against Cincinnati, arguing that Cincinnati was a higher priority insurer, either because (1) Cincinnati was Krinsky’s insurer and Krinsky was still the registrant of the vehicle on the date of the accident, or (2) because Cincinnati was the owner and insurer of the vehicle on the date of the accident. The trial court ultimately granted summary disposition in Cincinnati’s favor, finding that Krinsky’s policy was no longer valid after the vehicle was stolen and title was signed over to Cincinnati, and that Nationwide offered no evidence that Cincinnati issued a new policy on the vehicle after the title was signed over to it.
The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s summary disposition order, observing preliminarily that Nationwide offered two theories for why Cincinnati was a higher priority insurer: (1) “that [Cincinnati] was the insurer of the registrant, Krinsky, at the time of the accident involving the vehicle,” and (2) “that, because defendant was the owner of the vehicle at the time of the accident, defendant should have covered the PIP claims.”
As to the first theory, Nationwide argued that Krinsky remained the registrant of the Dodge Magnum for a period of time even after the title was signed over to Cincinnati. In so arguing, Nationwide relied on the case of Titan Ins Co v State Farm, 296 Mich App 75 (2012), in which “the seller of a motorcycle allowed his license plate to remain on the motorcycle and failed to cancel the motorcycle’s registration after the sale,” prompting the Court of Appeals to hold that “the seller remained the motorcycle’s registrant, and the seller’s insurer, State Farm, was required to provide PIP benefits.” The court distinguished this case from Titan, however, and analogized it instead to Allstate Ins Co v State Farm Mut Auto Ins Co, 230 Mich App 434 (1998). In Allstate, the Court held that the recent seller of the vehicle in question was no longer its registrant (even though he had sold the vehicle just hours prior) because he ‘did nothing to intimate that he was voluntarily remaining the registrant of the car.’ In this case, Krinsky did nothing after the sale of the Magnum to intimate that he was voluntarily remaining the registrant of the car, and thus, at the time of the accident, he was not still the registrant of the car.
“The present case is similar to Allstate, because Krinsky showed he did not intend to remain the registrant of the vehicle after it was stolen. Because the vehicle was stolen, Krinsky had no opportunity to take actions such as removing the license plate, but by accepting payment for the vehicle and signing over title to defendant, he showed his intent to no longer have an ‘insurable interest’ in the vehicle, and ‘did nothing to intimate that he was voluntarily remaining the registrant of the car.’ Titan, 296 Mich App at 90; Allstate, 230 Mich App at 436.”
Regarding Nationwide’s second theory, the Court of Appeals noted that Nationwide misunderstood the general rules of priority, which focus not necessarily on the owner of the vehicle, but on the “insurer of the owner or registrant of the vehicle.” Even if Cincinnati owned the vehicle after Krinsky signed over the title, there was no evidence that that Cincinnati issued a new policy on the vehicle after obtaining title.
“Plaintiff’s second theory is that, because defendant was the owner of the vehicle at the time of the accident, defendant should have covered the PIP claims. For this theory, plaintiff argues that the trial court erred when it found defendant was not an owner of the involved vehicle. This argument, however, misstates the trial court’s findings. The trial court found that even if defendant owned the vehicle, priority is based on the insurer of the owner or registrant of the vehicle, and there was no evidence in the record that defendant issued a policy on the vehicle after the title was obtained by defendant. On appeal, plaintiff does not contend otherwise—it does not point to any policy that defendant issued on the vehicle after it obtained ownership such that it would be a higher priority insurer. Indeed, at one point, plaintiff vaguely asserts that ‘[t]he trial court erred in not finding that any policy of no-fault insurance covering Cincinnati at the time of the accident would be responsible,’ without identifying a policy to which it is referring or even which insurer issued that alleged policy. Accordingly, we conclude that the trial court did not err when it found defendant was not the insurer of the vehicle.”
Nationwide also argued in its reply brief on appeal that if Cincinnati was the owner of the Magnum at the time of the accident, and if Cincinnati had not issued a new policy covering the Magnum after obtaining title, Nationwide would be entitled to reimbursement from Cincinnati under MCL 500.3177(1). The Court of Appeals declined to address this argument, because Nationwide “did not sufficiently raise [it] in the trial court” and “waved [it] on appeal,” considering Nationwide mentioned MCL 500.3177 only a single time in its original brief.